Cindy Sherman’s groundbreaking series, Untitled Film Stills, has gone on display for the first time in the UK in a major new retrospective of the artist’s work at the National Portrait Gallery in London.
Comprising 70 black and white images, the series began when she moved to New York City in 1977 and Sherman herself posed as a model wearing a range of costumes and hairstyles, capturing the look of the 1950s and '60s Hollywood, film noir, B movies and European art-house films. It was her first major artistic statement and certainly defined her approach.
Building on that layer of artifice, the fictional situations she created were photographed in a way that recalls the conventions of yesterday’s cinema. As a result, each photograph depicts its subject, namely the artist, refracted through a layer of artifice – a veneer of representation.
The show includes all five of Sherman’s Cover Girl series, completed shortly after she graduated from art school, displayed together for the first time since November 1976 when they were exhibited on the inside of the top deck of a bus.
Other key works on show include Rear Screen Projections, Centrefolds, History Portraits, Fairy Tales, Fashion, Flappers, Sex Pictures, Masks, Headshots, Clowns and Society Portraits. The exhibition also features a digital version of A Cindy Book, a private album of family photographs that Sherman began compiling when she was around eight or nine years old, which has never been seen before, revealing an early fascination with her own changing appearance.
Sherman focuses on the artist’s manipulation of her own appearance and her deployment of material derived from a range of cultural sources in order to create imaginary portraits that explore the tension between façade and identity. Sherman is famous for her use of make-up, costumes, props and prosthetics to create complex and ambiguous photographic images.
Taking a quotation from Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 film, Rear Window, which Sherman has cited as an important influence: "Tell me everything you saw and what you think it means" as its central theme, the exhibition will examine in detail Sherman’s rich and varied visual language – which draws on cinema, television, advertising and fashion.
Curator Paul Moorhouse says: "Cindy Sherman’s art is completely distinctive. By inventing fictitious characters and photographing herself in imaginary situations, she inhabits a world of pure appearance. No other artist interrogates the illusions presented by modern culture in such a penetrating way – or scrutinises so tellingly the façades that people adopt. Probing the elusive connection between appearance and meaning, her work explores contemporary life – and with sharp observation exposes its deceptions."
The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated publication considering Cindy Sherman's oeuvre through the lens of portraiture. Featuring key examples of her work, it explores the mercurial relationship between appearance and reality. Price £35, available in Gallery shops and online.
Cindy Sherman runs until 15 September 2019 at the National Portrait Gallery in London. Find out more www.npg.org.uk.